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BLOOD OF WOLVES


BLOOD OF WOLVES (Korou no Chi)


May 8, 2018
Q&A guests: Director Kazuya Shiraishi and novelist Yuko Yuzuki


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Shiraishi (left) and Yuzuki (right) recall the film's infamously gruesome pearl scene, which the director added himself.   ©Mance Thompson

Is The Blood of Wolves the first salvo in an electrifying new yakuza film franchise from Toei Studios? The film’s “planning producer,” Muneyuki Kii, dares to hope so. Its director, Kazuya Shiraishi, does too. And Yuko Yuzuki, the woman whose rough-and-tumble bestselling novel, Korou no Chi, reignited the studio’s  passion for jitsuroku eiga (actual record films), says, without hesitation, that Shiraishi’s the man if there are sequels in the offing.

Shiraishi and Yuzuki were at FCCJ to talk with the audience after our sneak peek of The Blood of Wolves. It marked the first time the Film Committee has hosted the author of the original novel on which a film is based, and the second time that Shiraishi has been on the dais. He was at FCCJ with four other directors to kick off the Nikkatsu Roman Porno reboot project in 2016, having directed Dawn of the Felines. It would go on to become the most successful of the five releases.

Shiraishi has explored territory similar to The Blood of Wolves in his previous high-octane actioners The Devil’s Path (2013) and Twisted Justice (2016), both of which won numerous awards. But he hits a career high with his new film. The boisterous, brutal cinematic bombshell made its world premiere in Udine, Italy at the Far East Film Festival in April and has already been booked for extensive international festival play. Should it prove to be a commercial hit at home, there’s every chance that Toei will move forward with Yuzuki’s just-released Kyouken no me (literally Eye of the Mad Dog), the second in a planned trilogy.

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The tone was surprisingly light through most of the Q&A, a relief after the film's unrelenting intensity.   ©FCCJ

After a decade of churning out popular ninkyo eiga (chivalry films) starring kimono-clad yakuza heroes played by the likes of Ken Takakura and Koji Tsuruta, Toei shifted gears in the early 1970s and introduced what came to be called jitsuroku eiga, focusing on the true stories of postwar yakuza in what film historian Jasper Sharp calls “a world of craven thugs and corrupt law enforcers… when vaunted traditional codes of behavior have been revealed as shams.” Kinji Fukusaku’s epic Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973), which was set in Hiroshima and starred Bunta Sugawara, was explosive, spawning four sequels, another three-part series and loads of imitators.

Toei makes no bones about its intention to recapture the invigorating jolt with which that classic franchise was met. “To make a film about the wild way of life of outlaws in the Showa period in the current Heisei era is an ambitious act,” read the production notes for The Blood of Wolves. “[It’s also] a challenge to Japan’s film industry, and to modern society itself.” 

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©FCCJ

The studio describes that challenge this way: “[Wolves] depicts men who traverse the boundaries between trust and betrayal, violence and desire, and justice and atrocity. In their harsh and brutal realm of existence, pride means everything. The striking catharsis and violence delivered by these men… is little seen in modern-day Japanese entertainment due to the highly restrictive nature of domestic free-to-air television and the current family-centric film environment.”

Yuzuki has admitted that if it weren’t for Fukasaku’s films, her novel would not exist: “It's a world that women can't enter even if they try, which is the very reason why it impressed me.” But responding to a question about the influence of the series on her writing, which has earned her multiple awards and widespread acclaim for her hardboiled style and meticulous attention to procedural details, she told the FCCJ audience, “The way I see the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series is, they were set in Hiroshima in the chaotic postwar period, and they weren’t so much about yakuza, but about these people and their will to survive. They were ferocious, and desperate to survive. They would kill each other, they would [really get down and dirty]. That was what really attracted me to the series. I wonder how many people in Japan today have such a passionate will to live?"

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© 2018 THE BLOOD OF WOLVES Production Committee

Added the director, “Needless to say, I was a huge fan of Toei’s jitsuroku eiga, but that era has ended. It’s the type of genre that you can’t make in Japan today, so I hadn’t really given any thought to venturing into that realm myself. In the early days when I was an assistant director, there were still V-Cinema (straight-to-video) yakuza films, but I never thought I would have the opportunity to make a film like this. When they came to me with Ms. Yuzuki’s novel, it was something I hadn’t even dreamt of. I was overjoyed, and also intimidated. But I also had a certain confidence that perhaps I was the only director who was able to take on this project.”

Shiraishi’s confidence is well earned. Not only does he guide his actors to awards-worthy performances, particularly Koji Yakusho, who is electrifying as a corrupt police detective, he also directs with dizzying visual intensity. Jitsuroku eiga fans will be pleased to note the stylistic similarities in The Blood of Wolves: Shiraishi deploys Fukasaku-esque freeze frames, overtitles, narration, newspaper images and docu-style shaky cam to impressive effect.

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 ©FCCJ

 “These days,” said Shiraishi, “the only yakuza films we have like Battles Without Honor and Humanity are by Takeshi Kitano, the Outrage series. Many members of the cast in this film were first-time yakuza. But they really, really seemed to enjoy it. They really put their heart and souls in it.” (With a cast that includes Yoko Maki, Takuma Otoo, Taro Suruga, Tomoya Nakamura, Junko Abe, Shido Nakamura, Yutaka Takenouchi, Kenichi Takito, Kenichi Yajima, Tomorowo Taguchi, Pierre Taki, Renji Ishibashi and Yosuke Eguchi, it’s hard to imagine which are neophytes.)

As for Yakusho, “When I was first starting out, I loved the yakuza roles he did in [V-cinema films] like Drug Connection and Osaka Gokudo Senso: Shinoidare. He was so wonderful in those roles that I wanted to bring back the yakuza Yakusho. Although he plays a detective, he’s a thug detective. But I think he’s fantastic in this film.”  

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Yakusho goes ballistic, brilliantly. © 2018 THE BLOOD OF WOLVES Production Committee

The Blood of Wolves immerses us in the dog-eat-dog world of Hiroshima at a time when internecine battles between rival yakuza clans could engulf the city at any moment. Detective Shogo Ogami (Yakusho) seems to be the only one holding the place together, using collusion, theft, torture, arson —whatever it takes — to keep the gangs “neutered.” The maverick detective, volatile and unpredictable, has no qualms about bending the law if it will help rein in the gang warfare. Favoring wide-collared polka-dot shirts and sunglasses, and ravenous like the wolf of his name, Ogami is dogged by rumors that he’s in cahoots with the mob.

After a recent transfer from headquarters, rookie cop Shuichi Hioka (Tori Matsuzaka) has had just about enough of his new partner’s balls-out behavior. “What you’re doing is insane, Ogami! Police officers are supposed to uphold justice,” he yells in exasperation. “You wanna hear my idea of justice?” responds Ogami. “I ain’t got one.” But he later confesses he feels “like an acrobat on a tightrope: lean too far to the gangster side or the cop side, and you fall.” 

Hioka secretly records and writes copious notes on his partner’s shockingly unorthodox methods as they investigate the disappearance of a finance company employee, which seems to have kicked off the latest conflict. Scrambling to retain his own sense of honor and humanity (codes that once governed both cops and criminals), Hioka gradually finds himself in over his head, swept up by Ogami’s maelstrom of raw brutality, scrambling to halt the eye-for-an-eye clan vengeance. But just as Hioka is ready to present his evidence to Internal Affairs, the rogue detective disappears and the hounds of hell are unleashed… 

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Matsuzaka has an Ogami-like moment. © 2018 THE BLOOD OF WOLVES Production Committee

Noting that the film is “very exciting, but also very confusing” (a fair criticism, considering the intricately woven plot strands, complicated relationships between gangs, enormous cast of characters who appear fleetingly, and the frequent necessity for multiple English titles on screen at once) one FCCJ audience member asked for some elucidation of the film’s themes. Responded Shiraishi, “One very big theme is the notion of personal justice. This takes place in 1988, the final year of the Showa era, and these days we still speak of the ‘Showa Male.’ It was an era of many historical upheavals, such as World War II. The number of people who lived during those times has dwindled, and their way of life is also disappearing. I wanted to capture the Showa Male and the Showa way of life in this film.”

Said Yuzuki, “What I wanted to depict in the original novel was a universal theme: what human beings are like and how they live. Life, with all its trials and tribulations, still compels us to survive. It’s about survival.”  

Shiraishi and YuzukiKoichi Mori
©Koichi Mori

Another journalist sought clarification: do they think that survival is more difficult in 2018 than it was in 1988? “I think it’s rather more difficult to get by in 2018,” said Shiraishi, “because we’re not allowed to express ourselves or speak our minds. It’s a little more suffocating now than it was in 1988. But that was the time just before the Anti-Organized Crime Law kicked in, so for the yakuza, it was a time when it became increasingly difficult to do business and get by. But it was a time when the yakuza were active, and had more power than the police. So it’s easier to depict the life-and-death [struggle] during that period.”

Explained Yuzuki, “I set the story in Showa 63 [1988] because there were still various ties between the yakuza and the police. There was a gray zone, so I could depict the kinds of clashes and connections they had. Right now, I think everything is much more black and white. So it makes the era of the story easier to depict. Going back to the theme of pain and suffering we encounter in life, those are timeless things. Because of various economic factors and war, they haven’t changed in 20 years. Even if this story is set in the late 1980s, the audience can still relate.”

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 ©FCCJ

Pointing out that in Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Hiroshima’s position as the site of the atomic bombing “loomed large,” one audience member inquired what the writer and director thought it represented in The Blood of Wolves. Responded Yuzuki, “Before I started writing the book, I went to Hiroshima to do some research. What really struck me was the power of the Hiroshima dialect. It’s very powerful. While I was in town, I went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and saw the absolute destruction that was wrought on Hiroshima. When I left the museum, the was sun shining and people were walking along the street, smiling and laughing, and it struck me how much determination it took to get us here, to this age. And I decided that I had to set the novel there, and include the Hiroshima dialect.”

Shiraishi smiled. “I remember watching the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series when I was a teen, and I assumed all yakuza spoke in the Hiroshima dialect. When the screenplay was written and we showed it to all our actors, I didn’t have to explain, they all understood what we wanted to do. I think that’s due to the wonderful films that Toei made in the past; they’ve been a guiding light for us. Under the influence of all those films, I thought Hiroshima must be filled with yakuza, but at the risk of angering Hiroshima citizens, I’ll just say that I found it to be a wonderful town.” 

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 ©FCCJ

 Asked whether she felt her gender had “delivered a revitalizing jolt to the genre,” as has been widely hyped, Yuzuki said, “As a writer, I’m not all that aware of gender. But what I often find gender-specific in Japan is the way that [friendships are formed.] Women seek friends who share the same values, while men, even if their values are 90% different, if there’s one thing that they can share, they can see eye to eye. That’s what I find really appealing about the male world. That’s the kind of relationship I wanted to depict, and I wanted to make the male characters as masculine as possible.”

Shiraishi’s Twisted Justice screenwriter, Junya Ikegami, adapted Yuzuki’s book for the film, and the author admitted, “There were a few scenes that the director played around with. One scene was the pearl scene, which wasn’t in the novel. Also, the line that [actor] Renji Ishibashi says, ‘Coinkydoink, coincidence, cli—’ [she stops before uttering the full, potentially offensive, word], was not included in the novel. I really thought the director outdid me on those types of things.” She laughed, “I’ll try harder next time.” 

Kazuya Shiraishi-2Mance Thompson  Kazuya Shiraishi-1Mance Thompson
 ©Mance Thompson

Shiraishi said, “I mentioned that there are very few yakuza films out there besides the Outrage series, and those films were hits. Without Ms. Yuzuki writing the novel, there wasn’t much opportunity for Toei to venture back into the yakuza genre. If this film becomes a hit, hopefully, if Ms. Yuzuki wants me to direct the sequel, I’d be more than happy to take on that role.” Here, Yuzuki interjected, “Soshiso ai!” a passionate expression that we’ll interpret to mean “You know I would!” 

Shiraishi continued, “The [cigarette] lighter that ultimately went to Tori Matsuzaka in the film — he actually took that home with him. He said, ‘I’m gonna keep this until the next time we meet.’ So if there’s another project with this series, I would be more than happy to take up the challenge.”

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 ©FCCJ



blood of wolves  2018 THE BLOOD OF WOLVES Production Committee
© 2018 THE BLOOD OF WOLVES Production Committee 

Selected Media Exposure


NIKKATSU ROMAN PORNO REBOOT PROJECT


 August 24, 2016
Q&A guests: Reboot directors Hideo Nakata, Akihiko Shiota, Kazuya Shiraishi, Sion Sono and Isao Yukisada


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The 5 reboot directors together for the first time ever: from left, Shiota, Shiraishi, Sono, Nakata, Yukisada. ©Mance Thompson

Perhaps we’ll never know exactly how Nikkatsu arrived at its short list of candidates to revive the studio’s acclaimed Roman Porno series for a new generation of fans, but they clearly didn’t just flip coins. The five singular directors who eventually made the cut — Hideo Nakata, Akihiko Shiota, Kazuya Shiraishi, Sion Sono and Isao Yukisada (alphabetically) — couldn’t be more different in style and substance, so perhaps Nikkatsu was simply trying to cover all the bases of audience appeal. While the five have each had commercial success and been hailed internationally, the similarities essentially end there.

Marking the 45th anniversary of the softcore porn that put Japanese cine-erotica on the world map, Nikkatsu chose the helmers, none of whom had previously made a Roman Porno (although several have made non-Nikkatsu softcore, or assisted porn maestros early in their careers), to create completely original 70- to 80-minute features for theatrical release and broadcast via SKY PerfecTV, as well as international festival play.

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                                                                                                                                                                     ©Koichi Mori

The five directors were given very limited budgets and required to shoot their films within one week, just as Roman Pornos had been made in their 1970s-80s heyday. Nikkatsu’s unique concept then, as now, was to require only that there be a sex scene every 10 minutes or so, but otherwise to allow complete freedom in the choice of stories and styles.

The reboot, according to the studio, “revives [Nikkatsu’s] function as a sandbox for playful experimentation with the aim of attaining new forms of cinematic expression.”

The venerable Nikkatsu Studio was facing bankruptcy in 1971 when it decided to shift production from action and gangster films to mid-length “romantic pornography,” or story-driven tales with copious sex. Tremendously popular with audiences and critics alike, the series stretched to nearly 1,100 titles before competition from straight-to-video adult films put an end to it in 1988. Acclaimed directors like Shinji Somai (Sailor Suit and Machine Gun), Kichitaro Negishi (Villon’s Wife) and Shusuke Kaneko (Death Note) all worked for Nikkatsu at the start of their careers. Others, like Tatsumi Kumashiro, Noboru Tanaka and Masaru Konuma, became masters of the genre, admired overseas as well as at home.

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        Nikkatsu President Naoki Sato makes opening remarks.  ©
Koichi Mori

At the landmark FCCJ event, which brought together the reboot directors for the first — and likely, last — time, Nikkatsu unveiled exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from the five new Roman Pornos, clips that underscored for the SRO audience just how different the five directors’ approaches are, and thus how different their films are going to be. This is an important distinction, since Roman Porno was never a genre, but a brand. Within the brand, a wealth of genres were represented, from thrillers to period pictures to coming-of-age stories to mysteries.

In opening remarks from Nikkatsu President Naoki Sato, he explained that the brand had originally attracted an abundance of talented young creators because, “They were able to use Roman Porno as a springboard to convey their own message, whether it be about a social issue or about an idol… The films were made by a respected studio and they received a seal of approval from Eirin [the ratings agency akin to the MPAA]. So while they included sex scenes, they were all distributed to theaters for general audiences.”

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          Nikkatsu President Naoki Sato     ©FCCJ

Nikkatsu was inspired to start considering the reboot following the ecstatic reception, particularly by Millennials and females, of a Roman Porno Best Hits package that made the rounds internationally several years back. Said Sato, “As a business, we’re happy that the Japanese film industry is robust, but in this day and age, it’s questionable whether filmmakers really have creative freedom. So we thought it might be interesting to see if we could bring back the same freedom of expression to our reboot productions.”

And so, businesslike, the studio selected directors who have built enviable fan bases alternating between studio and indie films. Hideo Nakata, of course, is considered the father of J-horror, having unleashed Ringu (1998) and Dark Water (2002) upon the world, following up with a fistful of chillers like his latest, Ghost Theater. Akihiko Shiota is known for his offbeat takes on the coming-of-age drama, as in his award-winning Harmful Insect (2002), but he’s also made such domestic blockbusters as Yomigaeri (2003) and Dororo (2007). The youngest of the bunch, Kazuya Shiraishi, has brought an unsettling sensibility to his three dark, moody features, Lost Paradise in Tokyo (2010), Devil’s Path (2013) and this year’s delirious corrupt-cop thriller, Twisted Justice. Sion Sono has courted controversy even while sweeping up awards overseas for his prolific, often outrageous output, from Love Exposure (2009) and Cold Fish (2010) to Tokyo Tribe (2014), although his latest, Whispering Star, is placidity personified. Isao Yukisada, a stylish master of high-gloss commercial features concerned with memory and identity, had a megahit with Go (2001), broke all box office records with Crying Out Love in the Center of the World (2004), and just had another hit with this year’s Pink and Gray.

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               From top left, Nakata, Shiota, Shiraishi (©Koichi Mori), Sion Sono (©Mance Thompson), Isao Yukisada (©FCCJ)

The first batch of Roman Porno titles, being rolled out in Tokyo from mid-October through February 2017, is sure to represent a dazzling diversity of approaches; but none of them will be a woman-centric approach. Why is it, one must ask (especially when one is female), that Nikkatsu did not select a woman from among the star directors it has supported, including Naoko Ogigami, Mipo Oh, Yuki Tanada and Satoko Yokohama? Surely this was an unforgiveable oversight?*

During the Q&A session, the selected directors first responded to questions about their inspirations. Hideo Nakata is the only one of the five who actually worked on Roman Porno films before, serving in his youth as an assistant director for Masaru Konuma. (In 2000, he made the marvelously titled documentary about him, Sadistic and Masochistic, a reference to Konuma’s S&M work). Nakata’s own Roman Porno debut is called White Lily, and it highlights a lesbian relationship. Recalled the director: “When Nikkatsu approached me about the project, I thought about two films that Konuma-san made, Lesbian World and the sequel. In the sex scenes [of my film], I was inspired by what I learned from him.”

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Nakata is the only director with a Roman Porno history. 
©
Mance Thompson

Akihiko Shiota released a straight-to-video pink film at the start of his career, and studied screenwriting under Atsushi Yamatoya, who wrote many screenplays for Roman Porno films (as well as for Seijun Suzuki). Shiota’s Roman Porno, Wet Woman in the Wind, pays homage to both Yamatoya and to Tatsumi Kumashiro’s 1973 film, Lovers Are Wet. “These two filmmakers have been very important to me,” said Shiota. “I think they were both able to make amazing works of art from adult films, and I hope to follow in their footsteps.”

Kazuya Shiraishi served as an assistant director on several of Koji Wakamatsu’s pink films, including Asunaki Machikado (1997) and Perfect Education 6 (2004). But he’s drawn most of his influence from Noboru Tanaka. While his Roman Porno film, Dawn of the Felines, was inspired, at least in the broad strokes of its storyline, by Tanaka’s 1972 Night of the Felines, Shiraishi noted that his first film, Lost Paradise in Tokyo, was far more heavily indebted to him.

Sion Sono has repeatedly pushed the envelope of Eirin respectability in his films, but he has released just one porn film: Aru Hisokanaru Tsubotachi (2000). His Roman Porno is called Antiporno, but it is not, as per certain online descriptions, a satire of the porn industry. “In this day and age, I don’t think there’s any necessity to shoot porn films,” said Sono of the work. “When Nikkatsu asked me about the project at first, I said ‘No.’” But when they let me call it Antiporno, I said ‘Yes.’ I decided to consider what it means to consume female nudity today, as well as to consider women’s rights and freedoms. You’ll be seeing those themes in my film.”

Isao Yukisada’s Roman Porno film, Aroused by Gymnopédies, is also not inspired by any of the earlier Nikkatsu films or directors. But he was listening to Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies piano pieces while writing the film, and decided that he should use it in the film, despite it being a little too well known. “I must say,” he said, “I was delighted when Nikkatsu came to me, because I never thought I would have this opportunity. From an early age, I was always going to see Roman Porno films in the theaters, and I especially admired Tatsumi Kumashiro’s work. When I decided to become a director, I went to Nikkatsu in the hopes of becoming an assistant director on Roman Porno — but they weren’t making them any longer! So I’m really glad to have been part of this.”

Asked whether they had a particular audience in mind when making their films, the directors all turned immediately to the question of gender.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       ©Mance Thompson

Shiota, whose film had world premiered at the Locarno Film Festival and received an award, said that he’d been struck by how female audiences responded. “It received attention from women in their 20s and up to their 60s,” he said, “and I discovered happily that women also want to see this kind of film.”

Said Shiraishi, “I often went to Eurospace to watch Nikkatsu Roman Porno retrospectives, and I realized that female audiences were increasing over time. I think it’s very freeing for a director to make a film left to his own devices, as long as he has a sex scene every 10 minutes, and I hope that my film is one that females can also empathize with.”

Nakata recalled that his Sadistic and Masochistic played at theaters running Roman Porno events particularly aimed at female audiences, and they would be packed. “In this day and age,” he said, “I’m not sure what the situation is. But we had two female producers working with us… and I did have the younger female audience in mind.”

Yukisada said he wound up having to write two scripts for the project, since Nikkatsu wasn’t happy with the first one, which “was about my own sexual awakening as a boy, and there was a bit of scatology in there. I thought it was beautiful, but no one else did.” For the second script, he hired a female scriptwriter (perhaps the first in Roman Porno history), and “it really caters to the female audience.”

Admitted Sono, “In recent years, I’ve been harboring this anger toward the nation and other issues. I think my film is really about anger, especially aggravation and anger toward myself. You really don’t have to come see my film. I didn’t have any particular audience in mind.”

Each of the directors also responded to a question about creative freedom in the industry as a whole, transforming the Q&A into a mini-Master Class in filmmaking.

Said Shiota: “I think all directors know that it’s a given that there really isn’t any freedom in the film industry. A film never goes the way you envision it — you may not always get the casting right and the script may change. You won’t have a choice about where and when to shoot it… and we also had restrictions imposed on us by the Roman Porno quota of sex scenes. But these restrictions provide a springboard for filmmakers’ creativity… That’s the history of B pictures, working with low budgets and other restrictions. I think what Nikkatsu is doing right now is giving directors the opportunity to create their own projects, as long as they abide by the restrictions. It’s a wonderful opportunity and that’s why I think the project is so great.”

Shiraishi lamented, “Right now in the Japanese film industry, it’s all about commercial success. Commercial success is all about whether the original novel or original manga has sold tens of thousands of copies, and about who’s in the cast. I don’t think that’s all that films are about. It’s important to bring originality to film projects.”

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 From top left: Nakata (@Koichi Mori), Shiota (©Mance Thompson), Shiraishi, Sion Sono (©Koichi Mori), Isao Yukisada (©FCCJ)

Sono, partially reversing his earlier statement questioning the need for porn, noted, “This was really a meaningful experience for me. I was able to do it my way, and for that, I’m really grateful to Nikkatsu.”

But Nakata sounded a note of caution: “I must say, if you were able to have anything you desired, life would be boring. The same is true of filmmaking. If you have no time restrictions, no financial restrictions, no schedule restrictions, it would be quite boring. Within certain parameters, comes creativity. Speaking about the current Japanese film industry, the bigger the studio is, the more difficult it is for executives to say ‘yes’ to a film. Of course a film has to make money, that’s what Hollywood says: if the film won’t make money, don't make it. In that sense, Japan is becoming a mini-Hollywood. But there are also a lot of people making films very freely in America, and I really envy that.”

Reminding the audience that Nikkatsu had turned down his first script, Yukisada said, “I think there’s a bit of studio distrust of filmmakers. And maybe that’s because the studios think we’re trying to arm-wrestle them, to trick them into making films our way. Whenever I make a commercial film, I feel this watchful eye, and I get paranoid. It’s senseless. I wish we could understand each other better. But on the other hand, when a studio says you can do whatever you want, that’s a lot of pressure, too. This experience with Nikkatsu, with restrictions, was an extraordinary experience, actually. My regular crew worked with me and we were surprised at how speedily and efficiently it all went.”

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Nikkatsu's inaugural Roman Porno reboot directors obviously enjoyed the experience. Will audiences respond?  ©Mance Thompson

Following the Q&A, a good portion of the audience stayed on for the special screening of The World of Geisha (Yojohan fusuma no urabari), a 1973 masterwork from Tatsumi Kumashiro that was adapted from the erotic novel by Kafu Nagai, and features big names like Junko Miyashita, Hideaki Esumi, Moeko Ezawa and Naomi Oka. The most highly acclaimed director of the early Roman Porno era, Kumashiro made films that were box-office successes and regularly appeared on the yearly Best Ten lists. Nevertheless, according to film scholar Kyoko Hirano, “Kumashiro's Roman Porno films were revolutionary in terms of his unique narrative style, usage of songs, disjunctive editing of auditory and visual images, and subversive ideological stance.”

Set in 1918 against the backdrop of the rice riots rocking Japan — with abrupt inserts reminding us also of the Korean uprisings and Russia's October Revolution — The World of Geisha is unabashedly political, as well as sumptuously beautiful, emotionally engrossing, sexy and often downright hilarious. Kafu Nagai’s original lines are sprinkled throughout, providing helpful context for the milieu, such as: “A quick snack outside the home now and then spices up the menu. Wives should understand and not get jealous.” The film’s opening love-making session lasts for over a third of the total running time, interspersed with subplots involving other geisha and their clients, and the film often features Kumashiro’s trademark “indictment of the hypocrisy of censorship” — black placards blocking certain naughty bits, and clever use of “xxx” in the Japanese titles appearing onscreen.

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Nakata, a true cinephile, stayed afterward to chat with foreign viewers
about the Roger Corman-like impressario of Roman Porno. ©Koichi Mori

Those of you reading from overseas, take note: Shiota’s Wet Woman in the Wind will next be seen at Paris’ L’Etrange Film Festival in September, along with Sono’s Antiporno, which will also be showing at Spain’s Sitges Fantastic Film Festival in October. Korea’s Busan Film Festival has announced the inclusion of three of the films: Nakata’s White Lily, Shiota’s Wet Woman in the Wind and Yukisada’s Aroused by Gymnopédies.

*There was no chance to ask this during the Q&A, but off stage, I spoke with producer Saori Nishio, one of two female producers on the reboot project. The explanation turned out to be both simple and stunning: timing. They had planned to include a female director, said Nishio, but each of their candidates had either just gotten pregnant, just given birth or was pregnant when the project was beginning. One hopes a hormone hurricane won’t interrupt attempts to include a female director in the next batch of films.

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                                                                 ©2016 Nikkatsu

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KILLING

00:00 Friday, November 09, 2018

TEN YEARS JAPAN

00:00 Thursday, October 18, 2018

ASIAN THREE-FOLD MIRROR PANEL AND SCREENING IN COLLABORATION WITH TIFF

00:00 Thursday, October 04, 2018

PASSAGE OF LIFE

00:00 Saturday, September 22, 2018

ASAKO I & II

00:00 Friday, August 31, 2018

THE TRIAL

00:00 Friday, June 29, 2018

SHOPLIFTERS

00:00 Friday, June 08, 2018

THE MAN FROM THE SEA

00:00 Friday, May 25, 2018

BLOOD OF WOLVES

00:00 Thursday, May 10, 2018
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